What is the best trike for you? Ultra/nanolight or heavy high powered small wing. Here is a start and a comparison.

Published by: Paul Hamilton on 23rd Nov 2017 | View all blogs by Paul Hamilton


Cheap ultralight with no training needed or fast, powerful/expensive with comprehensive training? Which is right for you?


Typically when someone comes in the door of my FBO as sez they want to fly ultralights and/or light sport aircraft for a cheap hobby, my reply is: “if you want a cheap hoby, stay away from aviation and take up hiking or basket weaving. ANY form of safe aviation is RELATIVLY expensive with the equipment, training and currency for pilots.


Recently, there have been a number of comments that EVERYONE is pushing EVERYBODY into expensive, high power, fast trikes. I would like to set the record straight as to my feeling about this.


Here is “my story” about my decisions to buy the trikes I bought.


I first put a trike undercarriage on my modified hang glider in 1981. A Fugi Robins  engine. About 30 HP. Not much. It would barely get off the ground at 5000 foot density altitude but it was awesome to get flying in a trike. After 1000 hours as a Master rated hang glider pilot I tought myself how to fly it because there were no instructors.  I had a great time with this. Fast forward to 2001.


I decided to buy a two place trike since my beautiful wife/girlfriend wanted to go up and move on from tandem Hang Gliding. It was allot of money so I economized bought a Cosmos 503 (verses a 582) because it was light weight, less expensive, and I liked the wing. Soon after I got it I flew this slow Rotax 503 on a cross country from Carson, down the Sierras, up to Mount Whitney 14,000 and the “Ultralight Trike Odyssey” was filmed.


See www.youtube.com/watch?v=glVFOSgNBXE


I flew this slow, “underpowered” trike to 17,000 feet, flew 250 pound students to 10,000 MSL regularly,  trained many pilots. Did I need an expensive, high power, fast trike? NO.


I went to Hawaii and flew 5 months, 400 hours and 24,000 miles in a 912 Airborne and Air Creation. This changed my life. I decided to go into triking full time.


Than in 2010, the FAA cracked down and my experimental was no longer allowed to be used for flight training. I waited for the LODA. Nothing. So I decided to buy a trike. By this time everyone was flying the 80 HP Rotax 912 and EVERYONE is pushing EVERYBODY into these more expensive, high power, fast trikes. I simply could not afford a 912 so I bought an Apollo Monsoon 582 S-LSA when I decided to go into trike flying full time.


Again, I would fly it to 10,000 feet with 250 pound students, etc…. I was making a living at flight instruction in a Rotax 582. It worked. Did I need a need an expensive, high power, fast trike? NO. However, it is a 14.5 meter ProfiTL super stiff wing and had wind turbulence limitations. I had to shut down training earlier in the day than I wanted.


After 3 years with this Apollo/ProfiTL and my third Rotax 582 engine (at 300 hours each) which operated great all the time, I wanted a smaller wing that I could blast through the bumps with an easy handling wing I could increase my flight hours since I had to turn many flights down when the wind came up and it got bumpy during the day.


If I had a smaller wing, I could fly more hours and everyone would be happier. Bottom line, a smaller wing needs more horsepower . So after 3 years of flying full time I decided to sell my great Apollo Monsoon 582 65 HP 14.5 meter and go to a 912S 100 HP so I can get a smaller wing.


OK which trike? I had a choice of all the manufacturers. They all wanted me in their trike. Here are the reasons why I choose a Revo, generally in the order of importance which helped my decision:


Topless small wings.


Easy to get in and out of loading and unloading people (similar to my Apollo Monsoon)


Easy handling/response for ease of flying and safety/recovery in the bumps


Almost everyone who calls and asks about buying a trike wants a Revo.


Super sexy looking.


Made in the USA with easy parts/great service.


Did I have to have an expensive Revo? No but it allows me to fly comfortably in more bumpy and windy conditions. This has allowed me to fly more for sure. This is how I justified it to the budget master/wife.


In fact we have a number of 503, 582, and 912 80 HP trikes at the airport here and the pilots are very happy with them.


Again. Do they need an expensive, high power, fast trike? NO. Not if you can live with the limitations.  No leisurely breakfasts as the bumps grow.


Some say that a slow trike is safer because it is slower. This is simply one point of view and it is  NOT TRUE.  Perhaps because they do not have the experience in the faster trikes. Some try to blame the trikes. Another misinformed ideology. Proper transition training easily solves the problem of faster trikes. The slower trikes are more susceptible to winds and gusts and are thrown around more creating greater chances for bad landings and tucks/tumbles while flying. They are much more limited to weather. The faster higher wing loading trikes handle surprise winds better and are much safer in these conditions. Speed is your friend.


If you believe in the cheap single seater that is fine also if that is all you can spend but you will be limited to wind conditions. At our airport the slower low wing load trikes stop flying early and the high wing loading trikes fly all day.


So a cheap slow trike is fine is that is what you can afford OR willing to pay. However, if you can afford a trike and you want to climb faster, get there quicker, fly in stronger conditions and be more comfortable overall, spend as much as you can and get the trike you want. You basically get what you pay for.




  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 7 months ago
    I get so many questions on this so here it is.....
  • wexford air
    by wexford air 7 months ago
    The last line says it all Paul. Agree with everything you say
  • Larry  Mednick
    by Larry Mednick 7 months ago
    Big and slow or small and fast are 2 of 3 options now. We have been focused on small and slow lately as well. Something Gibbo started over a decade ago was the 12m single surface Wing. We have developed our own called the RASCAL designed for 912 powered machines which offer these benefits:

    1 sets up in a few minutes
    2 Cruise 59 MPH
    3 light responsive roll
    4 excellent turbulence handling
    5 relatively short take off distance.
    6 lower price point

    But back to the key point which is being able to fly when you want to Fly and not just when conditions are perfect. Still first is the training/skill and then the equipment.
  • Garrett Porter
    by Garrett Porter 7 months ago
    Here's my story: I bought a 503 Pegasus Quantum SuperSport about two years ago after just finishing my private pilot certificate. At the time, all I wanted was just something to get me in the air so that even when times were not as prosperous, I would still get to fly and keep my pilot skills from degrading as much as possible. When I bought the trike I had just moved to Boulder, Colorado and while there were many trike pilots there, finding an instructor really left me with one option. While he and I got along well, his and my full time day jobs made scheduling very difficult, so it ended up sitting in the enclosed trailer (7'x12') for almost all of the next two years. Fast forward to last month, I decided to move back to Truckee, California and complete my training with Paul Hamilton. Paul taught me to fly weight shift control over the course of about 4 weeks. About three of those four weeks were predominantly high pressure. While it did require me getting up at the crack of dawn to fly, the 503 was more than sufficient for getting Paul and I up in the air, although at a relatively sheepish climb rate. We were training at 4,700' airport elevation after all. Did it get the job done? Yes. If I or Paul were much heavier, would it have become insufficient? At a certain point. With flying early mornings, I found I was ready to land after a couple hours, somewhere around 10am, which fit great with my work schedule. When it came time to solo the 503, I screamed away from the ground and have yet to feel like the trike is holding me back. My current tolerance for bumps falls well within the 503 handling capabilities, so for now, I am content flying the 503. Even in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, it is able to get me everywhere I want to go right now. If I was taking up passengers more frequently or teaching, then I can see myself outgrowing the trike, but until then, I am fine taking a break when the winds come up or just taking a day off altogether. The 503 is fine for me and I'm just happy to be flying.
  • Joe Hockman
    by Joe Hockman 7 months ago
    Yes, I agree good topic. I agree with most every thing you posted Lindsay. Given competent skills, light and slow is definitely safer than heavy and fast. We are talking mass, inertia, energy when arriving at terra firma. One can probably put down a nano in most any "unlandable" terrain and survive and maybe even walk away without a scratch. It is simple physics. Putting down a heavy fast trike in similar "unlandable" terrain and the odds are now stacked against you.

    One thing I was hoping you would mention in the decision of choice of trike, is what is the flying style preferences. Frankly that is one of the most important considerations in which trike to buy. Some folks may choose a lighter UL trike because they really do want to fly and soar like the birds. Cutting the engine off to soar may be the real therapy they are after and, if so, very low sink rates may be the most important characteristic of interest. Of course, many of these folks may be transitioning from being a competent HG pilot. Those without HG backgrounds that want to do this are probably best served learning to HG first, as Lindsay suggested. Now if you really want to predominantly do XC flights powering from A to B to C etc then yes a heavier trike with small wing and more hp are needed.

    Speaking of time of day to fly decisions and bump tolerance, many HG pilots love mid-day flying because it offers greatest chance of playing with free lift. I think most trike pilots that find bumps not only annoying but threatening then these pilots will likely restrict themselves almost exclusively to early and late day flying regardless of the trike they have.

    Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in the emphasis on price and affordability. Of course, affordability will dictate the range of trike options a prospective buyer will look at. I guess a personal pet peeve is the word "cheap" because to me that also implies low quality. I prefer the word inexpensive. Some true UL are inexpensive but not cheap, others can actually be quite expensive and they might be of top drawer quality.

    Another observation (and I think most would agree) is that good training is needed regardless of trike choice. Yes, it is true that our part 103 has no mandatory training and no requirement to demonstrate any airmanship standard, BUT I hope all in the trike pilot community will strongly discourage some adventurous soul who states he/she wants to get an UL trike and teach themselves to fly it. On the other hand, I know of a few UL or nano trike pilots that received significant training and with the transition training coupled with their prior HG training and experience, they are more competent pilots than many SP rated pilots flying an LSA. I reject the notion or comments (that I occasionally see here and on other forums) suggesting that UL pilots are some how lesser pilots because they are flying an unregulated trike. A competent soaring nano trike pilot that prefers mid-day flying may actually be a much better pilot than the scores of SP rated trike pilots flying their ELSA occasionally in early morning or late day hours. Yes, training is extremely important regardless of the trike one chooses to fly.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 7 months ago
    As far as the word "cheap", If I have offended any one sorry and get over it. I use this because this is what I hear from many. Those who do not have enough money for training but have plenty for medical/hospital bills and repair replacement of trikes. Yes training is the key to success in any trike, nanolight to XC machine. As I stated before, an unpowered hang glider can be great fun and do many things. Many hang glider pilots are happy to climb up and circle around the same as many trike pilots are happy to do patterns at the airport and never stray away from the airport. Flying is flying and thanks for all the options is really the point of this subject.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 7 months ago
    Now as far as Larry Mednick comments, a small high lift wing is a great way to go. Note the Evolution:

    1 Build a top of the line trike - Revo - done
    2 Build an ultralight that is functional and innovative - Rev - done
    3 Build an outback trike for the backcountry - Revolt - done.

    This is incredible progress and working on a small high lift, meaning slow speed wing can be another great Evolution to triking and another corner of the box option for pilots.
  • Tom Currier
    by Tom Currier 7 months ago
    Why not a Searey or Icon-A5? Given a choice I'd opt for the Searey at this point. I flat out don't like the attitude that follows the A5.

    The Searey is fast (at least compared to my trike), versatile (land and water ops), handles the bumps better than my trike so I could fly all day, and more comfortable for inclement weather flying.

    The fact is I like flying slow, early mornings and late afternoons, during nice weather conditions, and out in the open. Add ease of trailering to that and I have a recipe for fun flying and that's what it's all about for me.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 7 months ago
    Yes all you water takeoff/landing people, Tom brings up another corner of the box making it 3 dimensional. I will say I really enjoy taking off and landing on the water also. Here you have a big wing, big trike undercarriage and beaches you can taxi up onto. As Tom describes, it is generally a lower wind aircraft but I found it reasonably comfortable in medium winds/bumps.
  • Paul Hamilton
    by Paul Hamilton 7 months ago
    I must provide some insight on Garrett. He was an odd ball. He gets his instrument airplane rating and then transitions to trikes. What goes on in the mind of many?

    He had two strikes against him to start.

    1 Bought an older 503 trike before he learns how to fly or takes some trike lessons
    2 An airplane pilot who wants to learn to transition to trikes.

    This typically is a recipe for disaster. I took him on because he was local and recommended by my friend, ATP pilot and airplane DPE, Dave Tranquilla, who I also transitioned to trike many years ago.

    He shows up with the Pegasus 503 trike and needs an annual to make it airworthy. Typically they need allot of work. This one was in great shape so I gave it an Annual condition inspection and it was ready to go. All it really needed was a heating circuit so we added one.

    Second, being an airplane pilot is typically the worst type of student because they fly fine but do "surprise" control reversals when things get panicky in bumps or spirals past 45 degrees. Well it turned out, not one control reversal during our entire training. That was amazing.

    Garrett took his proficiency check to add trike to his airplane/instrument rating and that same day flew his trike out of Carson back over Sierras to Truckee for its new home.

    Congratulations Garrett as a new trike pilot........
  • Rizwan Bukhari
    by Rizwan Bukhari 7 months ago
    Interesting topic. To each their own. Personally for me and for recreational flying that I like to do, I feel that a rotax 912 80 hp trike with a 15 meter single surface wing is a great combination. With 912 80hp the average speed is in the 55 miles. Can be slowed down to land in smaller places and all around a fun combination. My check-ride was on Reb's Navajo 582 trike with Mustang 3 wing and I really enjoyed how it handled.
  • Joe Hockman
    by Joe Hockman 7 months ago
    Paul, I took no offense at your wording. On the other hand, I hope my comment was not interpreted as being too critical. As with most topics, there are a wide variety of opinions and how perspectives are expressed.
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